The Porsche Club Great Britain owes its very existence to the small group of 356 enthusiast owners who started the Club with an inaugural meeting at Chateau Impney in October 1961.
As the enthusiastic group of 356 owners who founded the Club and the automotive world recognised, the 356 was quite an exceptional car for many reasons, not least of these was its superb handling and driving qualities. Since the end of production in 1965, the worldwide 356 fraternity has continued to support and encourage enthusiasm for this “first Porsche” on the premise that not everyone’s idea of the perfect Porsche is a new one. And that had the 356 not been a notable success as a first production car then the subsequent achievements by Porsche on road and track may not have progressed so significantly. Since that time, the Club has grown from small beginnings to a membership of over twenty thousand owners and enthusiasts for all the different Porsche models.
This membership growth started with the advent of the 911 in 1964 when, even if the unprepossessing appearance of the 356SC’s replacement did not immediately appeal to most 356 owners, theirs was no longer the only Porsche model present in the Club.
Subsequently, with the introduction of further model types by Porsche, the 356 owners in the club became the first of a number of interest groups to focus on a specific model type by forming a 356 Register. The significant achievement was that the founding interest group kept their faith in their 356s without promoting exclusivity and the fledgling Porsche Club was allowed to grow into an umbrella organisation for diverse Porsche interest. The philosophy of promoting a club with unified interest groups proved something of a strength for PCGB during a period of continued growth.
The 356 register of Porsche Club Great Britain continues as it has done for many years now to act as a forum for owners and enthusiasts of the Zuffenhausen built 356 model types. The Register has much in common with other 356 enthusiast groups throughout Europe and overseas.
The Register emphasis is to promote enjoyment through driving the cars and, of course, helping would be owners with sound advice based upon experience.
Such advice is freely available to any Club members seeking to purchase a car or to undertake restoration. There is an abundance of specialised knowledge and many years of experience to help the prospective, would-be owner avoid disappointment.
Here in the UK, as elsewhere, the active core of the group seems to follow the norm of the 10% rule. We have just under three hundred 356 owners recorded on the Register. From this number, there are at about thirty or so regular active participants in the activities organised specifically for 356 owners. This seems to mirror the situation in almost all other European 356 clubs.
Register members’ cars are a mix of LHD and RHD models from the 1950 coupe to the 1965 cabriolet. The Register has a particular academic interest in recording surviving RHD cars. Many members and would be owners may be interested to know just how rare “on the road” 356s in RHD specification are. Surprisingly, there were no more than one thousand RHD 356 examples (including all model variations) of Porsche’s first production car design, the 356, sold in the UK between 1954 and 1965. First, by Connaught Cars and, subsequently, long-time concessionaires AFN.
The Porsche 356 was and remains a very uncommon sight on our roads today. Always expensive and always prestigious, the cars were only ever imported in relatively small numbers. The RHD Carrera models, with complex four-cam engines, were limited to less than thirty cars including the 904s and, along with the open versions of the push-rod engined Speedster, Roadster and Cabriolet in RHD are extremely rare.
With the passage of time, a high percentage of these UK delivered cars were lost to the scrapyards. This was mainly due to the ravages of rust in the complex body-shell.
As the values fell the cars were no longer viable restoration projects, neither was there too much local expertise available. Consequently, in the 1970s and 1980s, many cars changed hands for little money, only to linger untouched in storage, deteriorating even further until abandoned as realistic restoration projects and subsequently towed to the breakers yard. At the same time, when values were in hundreds of pounds, imports of a relatively rust free LHD example from the west coast of America proved to be a more encouraging alternative for many would be owners.
Unfortunately, 356 restoration as with most now “classic” cars can be a costly experience if not progressed with caution when first viewing a prospective project.
356s that have been neglected do tend to rust quite badly in all areas, the body-shell is a complex shape and the cost of renewing metal and the original contours can be very high. The best advice is to use a well- established 356 “specialist” inspector and most important a known 356 specialist workshop.
Here in England we are fortunate to have a few well established workshops who deliver restoration work of the highest quality anywhere. Visiting the known specialists will give a better understanding of the work involved and the quality to be delivered. The downside is that the recognised specialist restoration workshops can have lengthy waiting lists. Patience will have its own reward in this scenario.
Active owners are apt to be quite intrepid. Each year, there is a European 356 International event attended by between 150 to 250 356 owners from all European countries which have their own 356 clubs. The first of these meetings was in Switzerland in 1975 with thirty cars attending.
The events have been hosted annually on a rotational basis. The PCGB 356 Register presented the 43rd International at Ware in May 2018 having previously organised the UK International meetings in Maidstone (1978), Birmingham (1983), Harrogate (1991) and Brighton (2003).
The annual trip to the 356 International Meeting, irrespective of location, usually musters a group of ten or more cars from the UK depending on the distance. In Porsche’s 70th Anniversary Year four Brit pre A 356 owners made the two thousand mile round trip to Gmund in Carinthia for the 356 pre A International.
Here in the UK, owners and their cars can also be seen at many of the classic events involving the older cars such as Goodwood, The Silverstone Historic Meetings and, for the past decade, the KG Classic Event at Hedingham Castle.
One of the great benefits of 356 ownership is the well-established network of 356 enthusiast clubs throughout the world. This worldwide fraternity has done much to ensure that the cars are kept running and in use. The high proportion of these cars in existence today is the result of enthusiastic ownership and support over the years.
This same enthusiasm developed a sense of self-sufficiency in days when replacement parts were not so readily obtainable and led to the remanufacture of a comprehensive range of service and restoration items. The enthusiasm of the past proved an investment for the future and today’s 356 owners have the benefit of an enormous parts availability via comprehensive catalogues from the factory and independent suppliers.
Together with the long-standing establishment of a network of communication, via the World’s 356 Clubs, and reliable independent and factory part sources, the experience of Porsche 356 ownership is something to be recommended to any would be owner.
If you would like to find out more about 356s there are numerous publications some which are recommended below.
Specialist books have now become very expensive, in particular the good ones, some of which are out of print, but which will prove to be better value and in fact the book itself may increase in value along with the car.
Recommended titles include:
"356 Porsche – Driving in its Purest Form" by Dirk Michael Conradt
Now out of print
"The 356 Porsche – A Restorers Guide to Authenticity" by Brett Johnson
This is a series of updated editions which concentrates on the minutia of detail in each model type. Latest forthcoming on the Pre A!
"Original 356" by Lawrence Meredith
This is a less expensive overview of the various 356 model types and recently re printed.
"Carrera" by Rolf Sprenger & Steve Heinrichs
A Porsche Museum publication with a comprehensive chassis by chassis data listing.
"From Chain Drive to Turbocharger – The AFN story" by Dennis Jenkinson
Out of print but can be sourced on E-bay
"SPORTERFOLGE" by Tony Andriaensens (email@example.com) www.corsaresearch.com A remarkable collection of in period photographs of Porsche sports cars in competition covering the period from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. Very expensive it is - but the images are uniquely informative and not published anywhere else. See the only RHD 356 to participate in the Mille Miglia.
Today there are just under three hundred cars logged on the PCGB 356 Register.
Of these most are up and running but a number remain as restoration projects requiring substantial expenditure to bring them back to road-worthy condition.
Moreover, not all of the cars registered are RHD. From a total of over eighty thousand built, LHD 356s were sold in substantially greater numbers than RHD as America and Europe were the biggest markets for Porsche. As survivors LHD 356s have always been more readily available to prospective owners via importation from the USA and Europe.
What is encouraging has been the growing revival of interest in Porsche 356 models.
They continue to prove extremely reliable in numerous retro rallies and are thoroughly excellent touring sports cars. At the time of writing, values for both restored and unrestored 356 RHD cars rise each year and are continuing to do so as demand certainly exceeds supply. Whilst today’s values now make them an “exclusive” classic, one benefit is that this has brought about a more fastidious approach to restoration in recent times with many 356s being expensively revived on a keep forever basis.
The noticeable trend of the moment is a strong interest in the very first production 356s in the period from 1950 to 1954. Pre-A and 356 models, prior to the A model, are now much sought after.
Their high values as collector cars resulting from very small annual production numbers for the earliest cars and the fact that not all the cars built have survived.
Fred Hampton, 356 Register Secretary